Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Conspirator

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. It's a war that I have been fascinated with since I was a boy and actually visited several battlefields as well as the location of what you really could call the final shot of the Civil War: Ford's Theater.
Every American knows (or at least I hope to God they do) that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by actor and Confederate zealot John Wilkes Booth. What is not as well known however is the story of the conspiracy hatched by Booth and several cohorts to not just kill the president, but to murder a number of other important government officials and essentially bring the Union to its knees just days after Appomattox.
The new film from director Robert Redford opens with the assassination and deals with the conspiracy but mainly focuses on the defense of Mary Surratt (Princess Butterc... er, Robin Wright). Surratt was a southern sympathizer yet lived in Washington, D.C., where she ran a boarding house. It was in this house that Booth (Toby Kebbell, "Control"), Lewis Payne (Norman Reedus, "The Walking Dead"), Surratt's own son John (Johnny Simmons), and others conspired to kidnap Lincoln during the final days of the war. Eventually the plan to kidnap became a plan to kill and while Lincoln was of course assassinated, the overarching plot was not a success.With Booth dead and John Surratt missing, the American people crave a person to direct their anger towards and swift justice. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) is determined to give it to them by trying Mary Surratt not by a jury of her peers but by military tribunal. Reluctantly, Union officer and inexperienced defense attorney Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) takes Surratt's case.
"The Conspirator" is an interesting film because the story it's telling is fascinating but the movie itself somehow isn't. Mind you there's nothing wrong with it. The acting is fine, the script is perfectly acceptable, and there's a great story there that has somehow fallen by the cinematic wayside until now. But there's nothing remarkable about it either. None of the performances truly stand out and the script doesn't crackle with the proper electricity. But I guess the reason it didn't really captivate me in the end was that it only seems to tap the surface of a story that clearly has so much more to it. It would have made an incredible mini-series, giving the story room to breathe. We could have learned more about Surrat, Payne, and possible conspirator Stanton. But as a 2 hour film that sticks mainly to the courtroom it ends up dealing mainly with Aiken's uphill climb against a judge and jury who've already made up their minds and really examines little else.
This needed more punch and more time. This belonged on HBO as a three or even four night event. There's a fantastic story here and that's why the film falls short. 6/10


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